Hyde Park Refugee Project shifts focus among political climate

Staff Writer

The refugee crisis saw hope in the rehoming of families to the U.S., but since President Donald Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, most of which are involved in the crisis, these families are stuck in the devastation.

Many families have found refuge through Chicago’s RefugeeOne organization, and in late December, RefugeeOne partnered with the Hyde Park Refugee Project to bring in, house and support a Syrian family of five to the Hyde Park neighborhood.

The family moved in on Dec. 23, and with the help of the community, more than $8,000 was raised for RefugeeOne to support their new life and their path to self-sufficiency. The success of the project prompted an effort to bring in another family, but that was halted due to the Jan. 27, executive order.

“The Hyde Park community really stepped up to welcome and support another family, but unfortunately we have to shift our focus now,” said Penny Visser, a volunteer with the project.

Visser said that instead of preparing to welcome a second family, they are looking for ways to support the thousands of refugees who are already in Chicago, especially the new family in Hyde Park.

“The family is doing great,” she said. “They are taking language classes and are making great progress in terms of learning English. The kids are enrolled in school and they are acclimating to life in Hyde Park and Chicago.”

Through the Hyde Park Refugee Project, the family was provided a home and furnishings as well as access to local organizations. Visser said the family is working with Sirat Chicago, a Muslim support organization based right here in the neighborhood, and the Syrian Community Network, a local nonprofit that works to build connections with the newly arrived Syrian refugees and local Chicago communities.

Visser said a main focus now is to look for ways to support the RefugeeOne organization.

“About 70 percent of their funding comes from the government and if those funds were to be reduced, it could be really disastrous for the refugees already here in Chicago,” she said. “The work they do is really important.”

The project will also begin to host community-wide dialogues that will be centered on the refugee experience and the current refugee crisis. Visser said it will be an opportunity for the Hyde Park community take action.

“We are also launching a series of interfaith dialogues, which will be smaller gatherings of intentionally diverse groups to come together in conversation,” she said. “We want to break down the sense of otherness.”

Visser said in a situation so hopeless, it has been heartening to see the community come together.

“Working closely with this refugee family makes my heart go out to the thousands of people who have recently been resettled and the hundreds of thousands more who are not able to come,” she said. “I am very grateful we have been able to help [the family] achieve new, happy and successful lives.”

For updates on the status of the Hyde Park Refugee Project, email to hydeparkrefugeeproject@gmail.com.